Reality Check. When Venezuela and Cuba offered aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane-Katrina

Eighty per cent of New Orleans was inundated when levies broke during Hurricane Katrina.

Venezuela and Cuba immediately offered aid to the American people in response to Hurricane Katrina, which struck Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama just over 13 years ago at 6 a.m., August 29, 2005. Through the prism of time we can better understand the humanitarian principles, ethics and morality – or absence thereof – guiding the response of the three countries to such a natural disaster, which became one of the most infamous social disasters in the modern history of the United States. It is of particular relevance to an understanding of how an imperial power today morbidly vilifies the two smaller countries as monsters for the crime of refusing its militarized “humanitarian aid” and affirming their dignity and sovereignty.

The Category 5 storm wreaked mass destruction. The effects of such storms, however disastrous, are usually localized. Within the first day, more than half a million people were uprooted, making it the largest displacement of human beings in US history since the 1930s dust bowl migration. The port city of New Orleans, where one in four people lived under the official poverty line, inundated by flooding when the levies on the Mississippi River breached, was devastated and virtually deserted; eventually, at least 80 per cent of the city was under water. Some 1,200 innocent people lost their lives – mainly in the ensuing days and weeks – from a man-made social disaster. 

It was the 11th named storm of the turbulent 2005 hurricane season, following the worst-ever 2004 season in decades, and its most deadly and destructive. The hurricane and its ultimate landfalls was one of the most accurately-tracked in history and its devastating consequences one of the most foreknown. The US Navy ordered an evacuation of its own military forces and naval ships on the Gulf Coast on Thursday, 25 August 2005 four days before before Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall. They left behind a skeleton force at six military bases in the region. In a variant of the scorched earth policy, local US naval spokesmen made clear, as quoted in and reported by the Army Times, that they had no plans to assist the American people during the impending catastrophe. Naval personnel who actually did so were disciplined and punished by base commanders. There was no evacuation of New Orleans. [[1]]

Venezuela offered two mobile hospital units with a capacity of 150 people each at a time, 120 specialists in First Aid and search and rescue from the Simon Bolivar Humanitarian Response Team, an internationally recognized disaster relief unit; ten water purification stations; eight electric generators, each with a capacity of 850 kilowatts; 20 tons of drinking water; 50 tons of canned food; and 5,000 blankets. [[2]]

Cuba offered 1,586 trained, equipped and totally self-sufficient medical personnel. Doctors assembled at the airport in Havana, waiting for the word.

When it comes to prevent the death of human beings, the governments and people of Venezuela and Cuba do not look at the religion of their patients, whether black, white or Indian, or whether they are enemies or friends. They put lives, not profits, first. The principle is human solidarity: as human beings we should support one another when we are in need, not on ulterior motives.

The United States rejected these noble gestures and refused to allow the aid, doctors and nurses in. The United States, at all levels of the state, abdicated its responsibility and duty to its citizens and society. This was a crime against humanity by all norms of international law and morality.

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City buses were not used to evacuate citizens.

The American people paid the disastrous price with their lives, the lives of their families, their dignity and meagre possessions. FEMA/Homeland Security and other government agencies had refused to organize an evacuation of New Orleans by providing public transportation and accommodation. Most of the buses were then under water and unusable until repaired. Eyewitness reports said the monopolies that control thousands of buses in the city locked them in compounds to prevent them from being used by desperate evacuees.

Federalized military rule

Since the Truman Doctrine of March 1947 and the Marshall Plan of July 1947, the United States has sought to legalize its violation of the principle adopted by the United Nations on 11 December 1946 which stated, amongst other things, “that at no time should assistance to other countries be used as a political weapon.” It used economic resources distributed as humanitarian and disaster relief as an instrument of political pressure and securing the hegemony of the US monopolies. All the humanitarian reasons are brought forward and the philanthropy and generosity of the USA played up for all they are worth. Katrina revealed this duplicity for the world to see. The government of George W. Bush exploited Katrina to impose federalized military rule – not abroad, but at home.

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A FEMA detention camp.

Using the military and manufactured hysteria about “looting”, the government agencies even blocked efforts by the American people to lend a hand, part of an anti-social trend since 9/11 whereby all social, civil and political affairs are transformed into military matters. African Americans taking supplies from the stores to survive were denounced as “looters” by the mass media of the failed state with many arrested or shot. The image of chaos, looting and anarchy presented by the monopoly media as unleashed by the masses was counterposed by the bringing of order by the US military.

Under President Bush’s executive rule, the Department of Homeland Security took control of the institution responsible for civil defence against natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and submerged its civil defence preparations into the US failed state’s war on terror.

2005.09.08.Katrina.CaughtEscapingNOIt deployed nearly 46,000 US military personnel in the disaster area – including heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security monopoly – four days after Katrina hit. It transformed a major American city into a war zone under federal military occupation with a “shoot to kill” policy. New Orleans was placed under control of Homeland Security and US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) with the activation of the Canadian and Mexican armed forces. [[3]] In an attempt to hide the reality in New Orleans, the press was denied access to the devastated region without great success.

In the space of just a few weeks, the White House several times used Katrina to call for an increased role for the military inside the country. In the wake of the government-organized Katrina disaster in the aftermath of the hurricane, President George W. Bush said, “It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces – the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment’s notice.” (Speech, September 16, New Orleans, Louisiana) Bush called for the military to be in charge of public health and public disaster relief. This serves to eliminate both of these areas as public services, along with their civilian governmental agencies at all levels, and turn them instead into areas for military dictate and control. The public is no longer to be the public, but rather refugees, or individuals under quarantine, or “threats to national security.” Coupled with these calls for military control was the general discrediting of local and state and even federal officials, described as “overwhelmed” with the situation, and the promotion of the military as the force “most capable” of quarantine, or disaster relief, or terrorist threats. This was further evidenced in Bush’s call for adding $6 billion in the Department of Defense (DoD) appropriations bill, likely to be more than $440 billion at the time, for vaccines and related research. Normally this would be a matter for the public health departments, not DoD. The US Senate approved $4.9 billion for “pandemic influenza preparedness” in the Pentagon bill.

2005.09.06.NY.youthThousands of volunteer forces were organized by the people themselves, bringing to bear all their organizing experience of the many struggles for rights and against imperialist war. “They refused to allow aid trucks to enter New Orleans,” noted a report at the time. “They essentially quarantined medical personal at the airport and turned away thousands of healthcare professionals, both before the hurricane hit and after. A group of African American healthcare workers, along with much needed medicine, were turned away from the Algiers community, which was not demolished by the storm. Funds, fuel and equipment offered by many other countries, such as Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama — all refused.” [[4]]

A bridge too far

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People managed to take command of some buses.

A bridge that led over the Mississippi River out of the city called the Crescent City Connection was blocked by armed police. “Around 500 people stuck in downtown New Orleans after the storm banded together for self-preservation, making sure the oldest and youngest among them were taken care of before looking after their own needs.

“Running out of food and water, they walked to the bridge, growing in number to around 800 people as word spread of a safe way out…

“As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads.”

Two paramedics from San Francisco wrote, “They told us that there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words that if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River — and you weren’t getting out of New Orleans.’”

Nevertheless, medics trained for demonstrations headed to New Orleans and the surrounding communities. Food Not Bombs, well known for feeding demonstrators and communities, set up kitchens in the region and trained local people to do the same. The many military families and others involved in the Crawford Camp Casey at Bush’s ranch sent supplies, a bus equipped with satellite for communications and medicine, and set up a new Camp Casey in Covington, Louisiana. They exemplified the social conscience of the American people.

The US failed state blocked access to economic resources offered by foreign governments. The Washington Post reported on April 29, 2007 that of the $854 million offered by foreign countries, whom the article dubs “allies,” to the US Government, only $40 million of the funds had been spent “for disaster victims or reconstruction” as of the date of publication (less than 5 per cent). Additionally, a large portion of the $854 million in aid offered went uncollected, including over $400 million in oil (almost 50 per cent). Shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies from Italy spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina’s landfall, and were destroyed.

The Venezuelan initiative

While one president played golf [[5]] – two other presidents acted in a genuine attempt to assist the American people.

MARCELO GARCIA/AFP Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez | Marcelo Garcis/AFP

As of September 2, Venezuela had received no official response from the United States. Hugo Chávez, then president (pictured), criticized the US government for not acting on the offer of aid, and accused it of not having evacuated the people in the face of “an announced tragedy.”. “That government had no evacuation plan … it is incredible, the first power in the world … that is so involved in Iraq … and it left its own population adrift!” said Chávez.

Nevertheless, on September 4, President Chávez additionally ordered the shipment of one million barrels of gasoline as aid. At the time, 79 per cent of normal US oil production in the Gulf of Mexico was detained. He also generously raised the humanitarian aid his country had offered to the US government to $5 million, a sum outmatched by just one  country.

Chávez made the decision after consulting by telephone with Félix Rodríguez, the president of CITGO, a subsidiary in the United States of the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) which the Trump administration is now trying to illegally steal. The South American leader pointed out that the donation in cash should be used to lease a field hospital and thus serve the thousands of victims. Likewise, it should be used for the purchase of water and other supplies.

CITGO itself had already opened a shelter for victims of the hurricane in Corpus Christi, Texas, which assisted 2,500 victims. Rodríguez presented the local chapter of the American Red Cross, in charge of operations at a shelter in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with a separate $25,000 donation to assist it in its efforts at the centre. A group of volunteers from the nearby CITGO Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex, known as Team CITGO, helped in the relief efforts. “CITGO is a Venezuelan company and President Chávez told us that we should speak with one voice during this lamentable tragedy that is affecting the people in the US South,” added Rodriguez.

New Orleans.Casualty of Bush WarAccording to The Washington Times, a senior State Department official blandly pretended that he was not even aware of the Venezuelan offer, but noted that unsolicited offers can be “counterproductive.” The wolves pretended to be offended and acted the part of the innocents. US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega in an interview with Voice of America (VOA) cynically declared, “I think it’s in part a public relations effort on his part.” [[6]]

The Cuban initiative

Take the offer of aid from Cuba. Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world. At the time 12,000 young people from around the world, chiefly from Latin America and the Caribbean but also the United States, were studying medicine in Cuba completely free of charge. Some 20,000 Cuban doctors were assisting in dozens of developing nations. It has prioritized disaster relief as a matter of national policy and is an international model for disaster recovery. Its medical team is ready to be flown to wherever they are needed in the hurricane-devastated Caribbean.

Katrina had scarred the Pinar del Río to Matanzas province in northern coast of Cuba itself on the morning of August 24. But as news reached Havana on August 29 of the severity of the assault on New Orleans, Juan Carrizo, dean of the Latin American Medical School (Elam) began mobilizing specialists to assist the thousands of Americans affected by the disaster. Within three days, he had assembled 1,097 doctors, nurses and technicians, and 24 tonnes of medicine, all ready to fly to ­Louisiana. [[7]]

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Cuban doctors packing medical supplies | NBC

The physicians were equipped with two 25-kilogram first aid kits (55 pounds each) with medications and essential instruments. The 1,097-member team included 351 general doctors specialized in intensive care, 72 with more than one specialty and 66 who specialized in cardiology, pediatrics, surgery and gastroenterology. The members of the medical mission had an average of 10 years of professional experience and 32 years of age. In all, they would have been carrying 36 tons of medicine and equipment to do their humanitarian job in the most difficult of conditions.

Fidel Castro, then president, said in a speech he made later that month: “Our country was closest to the area hit by the hurricane and was in the position to send over human and material aid in a matter of hours. It was as if a big American cruise ship with thousands of passengers aboard were sinking in waters close to our coast. We could not remain indifferent.”

Associated Press reported, “[Fidel] Castro said the first offer of Cuban doctors for hurricane relief efforts was made during a meeting with Cuban foreign ministry and US officials in Havana on Tuesday [i.e., August 30 at 12:45 p.m.], days before the extent of the hurricane’s catastrophic damage was known. At the time, US officials had asked Cuban authorities not to publicize their offer of aid, said Castro.” [[8]] In contrast, although Canadians instantly responded, the Government of Canada did not send militarized aid until September 6th.

“Cuba is ready to help immediately, we offer concrete things, doctors at the scene of the tragedy, which is precisely what is currently missing,” he said. The proposal was part of “a real spirit of cooperation,” he stressed, and his government would cover all the costs of sending these doctors.

“It is a sincere gesture, of peace, which is not accompanied by any condition,” said the Cuban leader, referring to the economic blockade of Cuba, an act of war and collective punishment that had been applied by the United States for four decades. “We are absolutely opposed to any confrontation with the United States and their government, we do not ask for anything. We do not follow the kind of politics they practice,” added Fidel Castro.

“We discussed this issue publicly,” he later explained, only “because on the long list of countries that offered help, the name of Cuba was omitted, which confused and even startled many friends of our country around the world.”

The first hospital in New Orleans was evacuated at 11:01 a.m. that same day, August 30th. The flooding threatened hospitals holding patients whose lives were dependent on electrical generators, which would fail if the water rose much further. Officials warned of an infestation of fire ants and poisonous water snakes. Pathologies transmitted by mosquitos, such as Nile and Dengue fevers and some forms of encephalitis, could surface within days, and leptospirosis, which is contracted through water contaminated by animal urine, was another risk.

On Thursday, September 1, Cuba’s National Assembly sent a message of solidarity to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It said the Cuban people had followed closely the news of the hurricane damage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and the news had caused pain and sadness. The message noted that the hardest hit were African-Americans, Latino workers, and the poor, who were still waiting to be rescued and taken to secure places, and who had suffered the most fatalities and homelessness. The message concluded by saying that the entire world must feel this tragedy as its own.

A single tank truck

On September 1, as 80,000 people were believed to be stranded in New Orleans, the city of Chicago made serious allegations as to the real aim of the federal response and accused it of sabotaging the despatch of humanitarian aid:

“A visibly angry Mayor [Richard] Daley [of Chicago] said the city had offered emergency, medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank truck. Daley said the city offered 36 members of the firefighters’ technical rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-and-rescue equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police vehicles and two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health workers, a mobile clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and Sanitation workers and 29 trucks, plus other supplies. City personnel are willing to operate self-sufficiently and would not depend on local authorities for food, water, shelter and other supplies, he said.” [[9]]

On September 2, John Rhinehart, the administrator of a New Orleans hospital without power and water, said: “I’m beginning to wonder if the government is more concerned about the looting than people who are dying in these hospitals.” [[10]]

On September 2, The Washington Post reported that Mississippi’s chief needs were fuel and medical assistance. According to news reports, some of the main public health institutions in New Orleans had to be evacuated and closed as the lack of electricity, drinkable water, food and medications put the lives of many patients in danger.

Fox News emphasized that New Orleans health professionals were working around the clock, without rest, to treat patients in critical condition and to prevent a catastrophe in the already overcrowded medical facilities. These health professionals had been working without rest and their strength was running out; something must be done urgently.

A Louisiana Health and Hospitals Department spokesperson, Kyle Viator, declared “we have patients in dialysis, others with diabetes, people who require regular treatment and prescription drugs. Our resources are running out. At the moment, one third of the population is displaced, and this group of people includes our medical personnel.”

By September 3, one third to one fourth of the 1,200,000 people left helpless in the three southern states were children, according to UNICEF.

Fidel Castro.2005.09

Cuban President Fidel Castro, September 4, 2005 | Granma

On September 4, after things had reached this point, Fidel Castro, having analyzed all the media reports, reiterated his country’s humanitarian offer.

He promised “that in less than 12 hours the first 100 doctors, carrying the necessary medical resources in their backpacks, could be in Houston; that an additional 500 could be there 10 hours later and that, within the next 36 hours, 500 more, for a total of 1100, could join them to save at least one of the many lives at risk from such dramatic events.

“Perhaps those unaware of our people’s sense of honour and spirit of solidarity thought this was some kind of bluff or a ridiculous exaggeration. But our country never toys with matters as serious as this, and it has never dishonoured itself with demagogy or deceit.”

Seven days passed. The administration of George W. Bush had yet to even dignify the Cuban proposal – which had now swelled to more than 1,500 doctors, due to a flood of volunteers – with a reply. It didn’t even acknowledge it.

Cuban medical personnel assembled and waiting to assist Louisiana

Cuban medical personnel assembled and waiting to assist Louisiana | Granma

On September 4, President Fidel Castro met with the medical team. Cuban and US news agencies reported:

“President Fidel Castro reiterated Cuba’s disposition to help Hurricane Katrina victims in spite of Washington’s silence regarding Cuba’s aid offer. He met on Sunday evening with 1,586 doctors toting backpacks filled with medicine and essential equipment for treating people in emergency conditions like those in the region lashed by the hurricane. He noted that because of its proximity to the affected areas, it was possible for Cuba to send 1,100 doctors to save people in danger of dying, but the number of those called up had risen to 1,586.

“We have not received any response to our offer,” he notes. “We will wait patiently for as long as it takes,” he added.

The Cuban president stated that in this kind of situation, it didn’t matter how rich a country might be, or the number of its scientists or technical advances. “What is required at this moment is a team of young, well-trained professionals who, with a minimum of resources, can be sent where human beings are in danger of dying.” He affirmed “that in the case of Cuba, being geographically close to the affected areas, the circumstances were appropriate for offering aid to the US people.” [[11]] (The full text is here.)

As of September 5, more than 2,000 people had been evacuated from three important health centres, and several terminally ill patients died during the transfer process, but there was not yet any reliable estimate of the numbers dead from this cause. Another 10,000 people were awaiting transfer from at least nine other hospitals in the affected area. Access was difficult. Because of the lack of drinkable water and useless sewer systems in the city, the possibility of outbreaks of diarrheal and gastro enteral diseases was increasing. Laboratories were not working, so doctors and nurses had to determine the state of patients by more traditional methods. Mental health was also affected, because stress and depression are common among survivors of natural disasters. [[12]]

On September 6, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack falsely asserted that the Cuban medical brigade would probably not be needed since there had been a “robust response from the American medical community.” He blandly stated he did not have any details on how the United States responded to Venezuela’s offer. [[13]]

Havana never may get an answer

Two weeks later, the Cuban medics were still standing by. The attitude towards the Cuban offer and humanitarian principles subsequently became an issue in US politics.

On September 10, Representative José Serrano (D-NY) and a colleague from Arizona, Raúl Grijalva, sent a letter to the US Secretary of State urging the Administration to accept the Cuban assistance. “If you have a flood in your home and a neighbour that you don’t like offers you a pump, you don’t turn them down and let your house continue being flooded,” said Serrano.

“These doctors could help people. That’s the bottom line,” he argued. “The decision to help people should not have any political calculations attached… The tragedy is that people’s lives are at stake and they cannot seem to just accept the help.”

What had so far was being done secretly now had to be admitted openly. The occupants of the White House let the cat among the pigeons.

On September 14, in a profile of the Cuban doctors, Mary Murray, a NBC News producer based in Havana, reported the Cold War response of the Bush administration :

In separate Washington press briefings, both the White House and State Department spokesmen this week downplayed the Cuban government’s offer to send some 1,600 medics, field hospitals and 83 tons of medical supplies to ease the humanitarian disaster.

White House spokesman [press secretary] Scott McClellan scorned the Cuban proposal last Thursday [i.e., September 12] when asked if the president would consider accepting the Cuban help.

“When it comes to Cuba,” said McClellan, “we have one message for Fidel Castro: He needs to offer the people of Cuba their freedom.”

Still, the Administration has yet to give the Cuban government a flat yes or no. In fact, Havana never may get an answer.

The story changed from humanitarian aid was not necessary due to a “robust response from the American medical community” to the depravity of venom and hatred. Under such slogans of the “free world” and accusing others of evil intent, the people of the Americas have repeatedly been deprived of their rights and seen their best men and women murdered to make it easier to impose domination. The stock lies and anti-communist slanders were now being applied to victims within the United States itself to justify a form of collective punishment; the people of the coastal states were suffering and dying in “freedom.” Of the 15,000 people shipped to the Houston Astrodome in Texas, the vast majority were Afro-American. The president’s mother, Barbara Bush, toured the Astrodome, and declared the situation for Louisiana victims who “were underprivileged anyway” is “working very well for them.” Her husband, George Bush, was co-leader of the Bush-Clinton fund-raising campaign for hurricane victims. Mrs Bush contemptuously told a television program, American Public Media’s “Marketplace” program:

“What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is [the hurricane victims] all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them.”

Like reports from Reuters and other media, NBC contested the wild claims of the White House by praising the skills and humanity of the Cuban doctors in dealing with natural disasters like the one being experienced in the Gulf States.

Nor was Cuba was provoked by the outrageous response. During the night of September 14, President Castro “met again with all the members of that force, who were in the process of deepening their knowledge [e.g., studying English, local history and epidemiology], in order to inform them of the statement made by the Governor of Louisiana, which had been received in Cuba that very same day, and the message sent by Bruno Rodríguez, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the content of which I shall read out now, word for word, so that you may all know about it.

“Honorable Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Governor of the state of Louisiana.

“Madame Governor:

“We have carefully read your Executive Order No. KBB 2005-33 establishing the ‘Declaration of Public Health Emergency and Suspension of In-State Licensure for Medical Professionals and Personnel Licensed Out-of-State’, quoting that ‘… although scores of people have been rescued, there are many more persons waiting for rescue, evacuation and medical assistance, and many citizens have suffered or will suffer injury and/or illness…’. The Declaration also states that ‘…the number of medical professionals and personnel currently available to the state to respond to this emergency are insufficient and there is a need to immediately supplement their number in order to serve those affected by this disaster…’”

“I would like to communicate to you that the necessary Cuban personnel, up to 1,586 qualified and experienced physicians, carrying the appropriate medicines that the new circumstances may dictate, that was offered to the United States to assist the population and relieve the suffering of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, stands ready to fly immediately to the State of Louisiana as soon as you have the corresponding authorization from the federal authorities.

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, a.i.”

“We prepared more than 1,500 doctors with all the necessary knowledge, equipment and supplies, who were ready to start work as soon as we entered the country,” recalls Dr Carrizo, shaking his head. “The US government didn’t accept them, and many people died who could have been saved. That was a sad day for medicine, and for American society.”

Cuba gives the answer

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Fidel addresses the medical brigade.

Finally, on September 19, 2005 Fidel Castro created the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disasters and Serious Epidemics in honour of Henry Reeve for his participation in the Cuban War of Independence. Reeve was an American internationalist, who had fought against slavery during the US Civil War. Almost crippled by the wounds sustained in the course of seven years of war, he fell in combat on August 4, 1876, near Yaguaramas, today the province of Cienfuegos. Reeve was 26 years old at the time of his death, and had served in the Cuban Army for seven years, having participated in over 400 engagements against the Spanish Army.

“We will train professionals prepared to fight against death; we will demonstrate that there is a response to many of the tragedies of the planet, that the world can and should be better; we will demonstrate the value of a conscience and ethics; and we will offer lives,” affirmed President Fidel Castro during A national graduation ceremony for the 1,905 doctors who have completed the 2004-05 course. It was also the occasion for the constitution of the Henry Reeve International Contingent of doctors.

He announced that the contingent is to be made up of the medical brigade of the same name (1,586 health professionals) organized on September 4 to support those affected by the Hurricane Katrina disaster; 200 graduates of the 2003-04 course; 600 sixth-year students of Medicine and 800 from the fifth year of the 2005-06 course.

“The tens of thousands of specialists in General Medicine and graduates in Nursing and Health Technology who are fulfilling or have completed internationalist missions, Fidel noted, are an inexhaustible source for the Contingent, whose objective is immediate cooperation in any country hit by natural disasters (like hurricanes and floods) and specific epidemics that constitute social disasters (hemorrhagic dengue and HIV/AIDS, for example) and threaten to exterminate entire nations.

“The members of this solidarity brigade, which could also include graduates from the Latin America School of Medicine, are to be especially trained with a solid body of information on epidemics and illnesses associated with disasters and must know two foreign languages.” [[14]]

In the next 11 years, over 7,000 of its members provided aid in 19 nations (Haiti and Chile twice), treating over three and a half million people.

Cuba.Henry Reeve bridge collage

In 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) granted the Doctor Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health to the Cuban Henry Reeve Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics. “The recognition is an acknowledgement to the work of solidarity Cuba does in many countries through its health professionals.” [[15]] Neither Cuba nor Venezuela has ever used humanitarian assistance to bring about regime change.

***

Levelling the playing field

In December 2005, the Bush regime tried to block Cuba’s participation in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, organized by Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Players’ Association. Baseball had been removed from the Olympics after the MLB cartel refused to modernize its drug testing protocols or to send its best players. To tilt the playing field in its favour, it dictated some bizarre rules affecting player selection, pitching and umpiring protested by Japan and others. Meanwhile, the Bush administration incredibly claimed any proceeds paid to the Olympic Association of Cuba, at the time the reigning Olympic champion, would be tantamount to financing terrorism. It refused its team entry to the USA, a measure in violation of international sport norms on the travel of athletes. The island promptly declared in reply that it would give up any money that could be earned in the Classic:

“The Cuban Baseball Federation is disposed to give the money due it in terms of its participation in the Classic to those affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans,” stated the letter signed by Carlos Rodríguez, president of the institution, on December 14.

LetCubaPlayBaseball

Fidel Castro stressed that Cuban athletes were not playing for money. The baseball world rebelled. The Bush government was forced to capitulate. To make matters worse for it, Cuba won the silver.

However, after the tournament, the U.S. government refused to allow the donation. MLB has never paid Cuba a cent from its participation in this or subsequent tournaments.

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Cuban hurler Yader Marti pitches in; he’s working on a Habitat for Humanity home in San Diego for Katrina victims.

While the MLB team of millionaire professionals was eliminated in the second round, the Cuban amateurs went through to the finals in San Diego to face Japan. They spent a day in that city working with Habitat for Humanity building wooden frame homes for the survivors of Katrina.

In exchange, Bush created in 2006 the “parole program for Cuban medical professionals,” the only one of its kind in the world. It aims to destroy international cooperation with the island with countries in need, by depriving it of its human resources.

This anti-Cuban plan is still in effect because of the US blockade, designed to promote the abandonment of their missions in other countries, by Cuban health professionals, actively facilitating their migration through the use of US embassies that encourage them to do so. This program is just one of many attacks that Cuba is still suffering from the USA now being escalated by the Trump administration which has become a matter of especially grave concern, although both governments recently decided to restore diplomatic relations and bilateral dialogue. Such blockades are a form of collective punishment.

On January 26, 2011 the Cuban press announced approval of the first therapeutic vaccine in the world against the advanced stages of lung cancer, called CIMAVAX-EGF. In January 2013, the island announced the second cancer vaccine, known as Racotumomab. Clinical tests, carried out in 86 nations, revealed that though these vaccines do not cure the disease, they do reduce the tumors thus improving the quality and expectancy of life of the patients. At present, Cuba exports these products to 26 countries and participates in joint ventures in China, Canada and Spain. [[16]]

The American people still have not heard about it.

The alternative

Ecuadorians thank Cuba for aid

Ecuadorians thank Cuba for humanitarian aid.

The Henry Reeve Brigade has distinguished itself throughout the world for their internationalism, from the mountains of Pakistan wracked by an earthquake to the Ebola epidemic in Africa. Such missions not only assist the people at a time of great need, but underscores the magnitude of their generosity and national altruism. The dignity and social conscience displayed by the Venezuelan and Cuban government and peoples are a bulwark against the arms of imperialism and its empty professions of humanitarianism. The current US President Trump let thousands die in Puerto Rico and put small children in cages on the Mexican border. The deeds of the Venezuelans and Cubans demonstrate the alternatives which permit people to realize their deepest aspirations when they are empowering themselves, and that another better world is possible. The reality that it is the people themselves, here and worldwide, who are and will bring this change about has never been clearer.

Notes

[1] http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2005/dis/al122005.discus.001.shtml?

[2] The text of the Diplomatic Note from Venezuela read as follows:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs extends its greetings to the Honorable Embassy of the United States of America in the opportunity to express its deepest condolences for the disaster resulting from Hurricane Katrina, that which has affected vast regions of the southern United States, notably the states of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, and caused a terrible loss of human life and incalculable material damages.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to express to the Honorable Embassy of the United States its deepest feelings of solidarity with the families of the victims, who during these difficult times face a difficult situation and the loss of loved ones and possessions. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela would like to reiterate the offer made by President Hugo Chavez Frias of fuel and humanitarian aid to help alleviate the consequences of this disaster, especially during a time when the crisis is aggravated by damages to oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico and the southern United States.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to communicate to the Honorable Embassy of the United States that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has offered the Governor of the State of Louisiana, Ms. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, immediate aid of $1 million; 120 specialists in First Aid and search and rescue, part of the “Simon Bolivar” Humanitarian Response Team, an internationally recognized disaster relief unit; two mobile hospitals with a capacity of 150 people each at a time; ten water purification stations; eight electric generators, each with a capacity of 850 kilowatts; 20 tons of drinking water; 50 tons of canned food; and 5,000 blankets. The offer will be made available in immediate fashion, should the Government of the United States choose to accept it, through the CITGO Corporation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes the opportunity to reiterate to the Honorable Embassy of the United States of America its considerations of the highest esteem and regard.

“Venezuela formalizes offer of fuel and humanitarian aid for the United States,” VHeadline.com, September 2, 2005.

[3] “Neighbours helping neighbours”

KATRINA INTERNATIONAL AIDAs part of the NORTHCOM militarized aid under Homeland Security, the US involved the two annexed armed forces of Mexico and Canada in codename Operation Unison, in addition to civilian donations and supplies offered by the Canadian people and provincial governments as well as first providers. The Canadian government deployed a task force comprising three warships – HMCS Athabaskan, (command and control ship) the frigates HMCS Toronto and HMCS Ville de Québec – along with the Coast Guard vessel CCGS Sir William Alexander and three Sea King helicopters and one BO-105 helicopter to the area. They carried as many as 1,000 Canadian Forces personnel. They were dispatched from Halifax in a nationally televised ceremony on September 6 attended by Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose family owns a major shipping monopoly (the 32-ocean-going Canada Shipping Lines), and U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins.

Among other tasks, it was assigned the job of replacing damaged buoys in the oil shipping lanes to the port of Louisiana, the fifth largest in the USA and the terminus of a CN rail line from Chicago. All in all, the US Navy assembled a fleet of some 35 ships. A team of divers was flown on September 5 to Pensacola, Fla., to work from the huge navy ship USS Grapple. Another team of Navy divers from the West Coast base of CFB Esquimalt were flown the same day in two Hercules aircraft assigned to the USS San Antonio, an amphibious transport ship that served as a fixed staging area.

It is interesting that (1) a team of 15 Canadian Forces medical personnel (physicians, nurses, mental health specialists and a social worker) was only sent on September 11 from CFB Greenwood, NS, almost two weeks after Katrina hit, and (2) Canada did not deploy its militarized, much advertised Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART), which it had sent to Amparai on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. The location was a contested area, where SNC-Lavalin was bidding for a major contract to build a brand new mega, international deep-water sea port in Hambantota – an initiative which can only be in the service of US geostrategic aims in the Indian Ocean.

The Halifax media featured daily reports on “Canada’s mission of mercy.” The Washington Post reported “The Canadian government, sending quick offers of oil, warships, airplanes and other humanitarian aid to the United States to deal with Hurricane Katrina, hopes those measures will help improve testy relations and remind Americans that Canada is their main supplier of oil.”*

Canadian aircraft were deployed as part of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) military assistance pact.

Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune reported on August 30 and again on September 5 that the USS Bataan, a large amphibious assault ship which recently completed the Panamax military exercise near the Panama Canal, now positioned close to New Orleans, is “underused and waiting for a larger role in the effort,” with its 600 beds and six medical operating rooms empty. The Tribune notes that the ship’s 1,200 sailors have not been asked to join the relief effort.

*Doug Struck, “Help from the North: Canada Hopes Aid Will Ease Tensions,” Washington Post Foreign Service, Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Page A16.

See also: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Canadian_response_to_Hurricane_Katrina

[4] Halliburton, Pat Robertson get Katrina funds

It was not a question of helping others but of helping themselves. The US Navy was quick (on September 2) to give a $500 million contract to Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, that had also got giant contracts in Iraq, to repair the levies at a Gulf Coast naval facility. Halliburton is a giant oil-field services company run by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000. The promise of lucrative relief contracts sent shares in two large arms-oil multinationals, Halliburton and Baker Hughes, soaring to 52-week highs. Since 1989, governments worldwide had awarded $3b in contracts to KBR’s Government and Infrastructure Division to clean up damage caused by natural and man-made disasters. Earlier in 2005, the US Navy awarded KBR and three other companies $350m in contracts to repair naval facilities in northwest Florida damaged by Hurricane Ivan, which had struck in September 2004.

On September 8, Bush suspended the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in storm ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi – a law that required employers to pay the locally prevailing wage to workers on federally financed projects, which were already lower than in most parts of the country. Suspending Davis-Bacon allowed the government and contractors to pay lower than prevailing wages, and Bush said, “will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals.” The suspension in fact amounted to a gift to the corporations inundating the area to carry out the reconstruction, who were under no obligation to pass the savings along.

A relief bill passed by Congress included another boon for corporations, who had descended like vultures on the region to get a piece of the $62 billion so far allocated. In a significant change to federal contracting regulations, contractors were allowed to spend up to $250,000 on hurricane-related contracts and expenses without seeking competitive bids. Restrictions were also eased that favoured the contracting of small and minority-owned businesses. Previously only purchases up to $2,500 in normal circumstances, or $15,000 in emergencies, were exempt. Republicans had sought a change in these regulations for years.

The economic response was, of course, not only conceived as medi­cine for the big American monopolies but also had a function in financing a reactionary political reserve which serves the USA and its aggressive plans. The Bush administration hoped to capitalize on the disaster to change laws that bar the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from giving money directly to religious organizations. By allowing FEMA to directly fund religious groups that were assisting Katrina survivors, the Republicans aimed to pave the way for their long-standing goal of increasing government funding of religious institutions – at the expense of federal spending on social programs.

Organizations that used the name of God were similarly blessed. Just days after calling for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, a crime under international law, evangelist Pat Robertson and the “faith-based” Christian Broadcasting Network initially greeted Katrina as a sign of God’s punishment of America for siding with the Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza. It then changed its tune. It called for donations and announced “Operation Blessing,” which consisted of a highly-publicized but totally inadequate shipment of canned goods and bibles. Instead of being punished for calling for the assassination of the leader of a foreign state, Robertson was rewarded. FEMA, in its list of government recommended organizations for making Katrina relief contributions, listed Operation Blessing among the top groups, alongside the Red Cross. Operation Blessing is one of Robertson’s organizations. Robertson, who ran for president in 1992, had a weekly TV program broadcast to millions. Robertson is also known to have received more than $25 million in federal public dollars through Bush’s “faith-based” programs. (“Government Failure in Katrina Aftermath: News Briefs and Commentary,” Voice of Revolution, September 11, 2005, usmlo.org.)

[5] Let them eat cake

“President Bush was on a carefree holiday in Texas playing golf when Katrina struck. He then spent Monday on a pre-arranged political fundraising tour of California and Arizona, which he did not cancel or curtail. As the full magnitude of the disaster unfolded, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, a native of Alabama, was seen shopping for $7,000 shoes in New York, and US Vice President Dick Cheney remained on holiday in Wyoming until Thursday” – after completing the purchase of a vacation mansion in St. Michael’s, MD. (“The Questions a Shocked America is Asking its President,” Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, Saturday, September 3, 2005.)

As New Orleans sank, [US Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld attended a San Diego Padres baseball game: “The seemingly carefree behaviour of top Bush administration officials early this week, who stuck to their vacations as tens of thousands cried for help in New Orleans, gained another twist with revelations that Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld was taking in a ball game in San Diego late Monday night – nearly 24 hours after Katrina hit the coast.” The NORTHCOM chief “joined Padres President John Moores in the owner’s box…at Petco Park.” (“Revealed: Rumsfeld at Padres Ball Games as New Orleans Sank,” Editor & Publisher, September 6, 2005.)

[6] Venezuela Officially Offers Aid to US,” Saturday, September 3, 2005, Venezuelanalysis.com.

[7] Andrew Jack, “Cuba’s Medical Diplomacy,” Haiti-Cuba-Venezuela Analysis (HCVA) blog, May 15, 2010.

[8] “Cuba offers help to US,” AP, September 3, 2005.

[9] “Daley ‘shocked’ at federal snub of offers to help,” Chicago Tribune, 1 September 2005; “Mayor Daley ‘Shocked’ as Feds Reject Aid,” Sun Times.

[10] “A National Disgrace’: Questions Grow Over Rescue Chaos,” BBC, Friday, 2 September 2, 2005.

[11] Prensa Latina, September 5, 2005; “Castro: U.S. hasn’t responded to Katrina offer,” CNN, September 5, 2005

[12] “Hurricane Katrina Causes Sanitary Crisis in New Orleans,” Prensa Latina, September 5, 2005.

[13] Sue Pleming, “U.S. gives Cuba cold shoulder over aid offer,” Reuters, September 6, 2005.

[14] Silvia Barthelemy, Anett Ríos and José A. de a Osa, “We will train professionals prepared to fight against death in any part of the world,” Granma, September 20, 2005.

[15] At the same time, it commemorated the unselfish work of the over 250 Cuban health personnel that went to Sierra Leona, Liberia and Guinea Conakry in 2014-2015 to fight the Ebola outbreak.

The Doctor Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for Public Health was established in 2008, and it is granted to persons or governmental institutions t mainly the fields “young leadership” and “contributor of health management” (especially for epidemics) at the annual assembly of WHO, which takes place in May each year. (“WHO grants prize to Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Brigade,” Cubasi, February 1, 2017.)

[16] “Cuba develops four cancer vaccines, ignored by the media,” CubainformacionJuly 5, 2014

For your information

The dispersal of a city

02diaspora_graphic

Click to enlarge

Demanding the right to return, Washington, February 8-9, 2006

Related reading

KatrinaHeader.gry

Katrina special edition: A crime against humanity

From Shunpiking Magazine, September 18, 2005

Scenario for a military takeover of civilian life

Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist)

Two hurricanes, two responses

Active hurricane season approaching. MARK RUSHTON with TONY SEED, Shunpiking Magazine, July 2005

 

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